TORONTO: In a room at the recent Virtual and Augmented Reality Conference and Expo in Toronto, users were experiencing a web that’s no longer on a screen — a specialised browser allowed them to visit a videosharing website that turned into a gallery, with content showing as clickable displays.
The user, donning an avatar, could saunter through the gallery, selecting content to view, projected theatre-like, as the browser converted an existing site into a 3D environment.
This was at the VRTO (as the conference is commonly called) camp of JanusVR, a startup that has built a native virtual reality internet browser where “Webspaces become 3D spaces interconnected by portals”.
On the sidelines of VRTO, its co-founder Karan Singh said, “We’re trying to reimagine the way we interact with the internet and with content.”
Singh is a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Toronto, and a core member of its Dynamic Graphics Project Lab, where Janus’ other founder, James McCrae, was his student. In an interview, McCrae said they use an algorithm or script to “spatialise” the web: “It will take your elements, other elements of the web, mash those together and create something like a 3D environment. That’s what we do with things like YouTube and Reddit.”
There’s a spectrum that Janus covers, from “bringing the 2D to 3D directly” or “content authored to be 3D to begin with”, McCrae said.
Web browsers, conceived in the mid-1990s, addressed the web in terms of pages, as content was mainly text and images. As Singh, who is from New Delhi, explained, “Since then the world has changed, but that design hasn’t changed.
“But at this time, where we are dealing with a resurgence of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, and the immersive world has started to become important again, working with that same model is a bit too much patchwork, in our opinion. At some point, the paradigm needs to evolve or be reimagined. We’re doing both. And the way we’re doing it is by changing the analogy. Web pages are now web spaces and links are portals.”
While Janus has its native browser, it also has JanusWeb, accessible through existing browsers and given the trajectory of how the web is viewed now, a smartphone app is on schedule for release this year.
In terms of the magnitude of the web, Janus’ reach is “tiny”, as Singh acknowledges, with about 100,000 users spanning 145 countries, but in terms of the VR/AR space, he says, these numbers are “very significant”.
The optimum experience for this technology comes with hardware – headsets, and controllers. Those may become common in the not-too-distant future. “As price continues to drop down, we’re going to continue to see a lot more adoption, a lot more people interested in exploring the immersive web. In this sort of latest generation or cadence of renewed interest in virtual reality, and the overall timing, it is really ideal for us there,” McCrae said.
The company is co-located in Toronto and San Mateo, California, as McCrae has moved to the Silicon Valley. Its founders are looking at locking in the firstmover advantage.
VRTO GAINING WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE
Featuring nearly 100 speakers and 50 exhibitors, VRTO was in its second year and brought bleeding-edge technology at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Enhanced acceptance of VRTO has obviously pleased its founder and executive director Keram Malicki-Sanchez. He said, “It has doubled in terms of the number of attendees and my effort to get those people through the door is probably half.”
Those at VRTO represented tech majors like Google, Microsoft, IMAX, AMD, with participants from NASA Ames Research, as well as various universities.